In May 2010, India witnessed one its worst air crashes. The Air India Express flight carrying 166 passengers and about six crew members overshot the runway at Bajpe airport near Mangalore and crashed, leaving nearly 160 passengers dead.
Two years on, amidst the insurmountable grief, the victims' families have been waging a very ugly battle for compensation. While Air India says that says that it has settled 138 cases till now, the victims, while quoting the Montreal convention, say that justice is yet to be done.
In an interview to rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa, Mohammad Beary, who represents the victims as president of the Mangalore Air Crash Victims Family Association, explains the manner in which Air India has been trying to settle the dues without adhering to the Montreal convention.
Air India claims that it has settled most of the cases. What are your comments on this?
We held a meeting a couple of days back after hearing about this. We have decided to ascertain this information and will be seeking the information under the Right to Information Act. We need to know how many people have been given compensation and also the amount that has been paid so far.
How has the journey been so far?
Not easy. We have struggled a lot.
At what stage is the litigation at now?
We had approached the Kerala High Court and have now filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court. The high court division bench ruled that those who have already claimed the compensation are at liberty to file a suit before the court seeking enhancement of compensation.
What are your demands?
We have demanded a minimum of Rs 1 lakh as special drawing right.
Are your entitled to claim so much?
Yes, we are. The report to the government of India states that there was a pilot error and as per the Montreal Convention in such cases, compensation would have no limit. It has to be decided either by a court or a negotiating committee
What kind of compensation has been given till now?
In some cases, they have given Rs 75 lakh as compensation. In case of women and children, Rs 30 lakh and Rs 25 lakh have been given as compensation. We do not agree with this. The process has not been fair. The compensation has been on the basis of income and in many cases while computing the income, the victims have not been in a position to give the exact income as per their certificate.
What does the Montreal convention have to say about this exactly?
As per the Montreal Convention, the economic loss and also the non-economic losses have to be computed while granting compensation.
What is non-economic loss?
Non-economic loss includes separation of family, grief and mental trauma. In this case, this aspect has not been considered. That's why we are unhappy with the manner in which this issue has been dealt.
The high court gives you the option to seek enhanced compensation. What is the problem then?
It is not all that easy. Some cannot afford the cost of the lawsuit.
If some victims are unhappy with the compensation, why did they accept it in the first place?
You cannot fault them for doing that. They have undergone trauma. There was a lot that changed in their lives. Life had to go on and some had urgent commitments. There were issues such as old-age parents, medical treatments, construction of houses that were half done, bank loans and education for their children.
Has Air India been receptive? What has their body language been all through the case?
Initially, it was nothing but hell to deal with them. There was no humanity or kindness. However, today things have changed a bit; they are better to deal with.